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Landmark Thunder Bay courthouse converting to boutique hotel

Forty-one guestroom hotel aiming for early fall opening under Ascend by Choice banner

What do you do with a century-old historic courthouse in Thunder Bay?

Why, you turn it into a boutique hotel, of course.

Currently under renovations, the Courthouse Hotel has yet to set an opening date but owner David Sun said that he believes it will happen soon.

“It’s a little bit late,” Sun said. “I’m trying for the end of August... hopefully no later than September.”

Since the former Superior Court of Justice Building is designated heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act, Sun had to agree to keep certain features including the main courtroom and the grand staircase in the front lobby.

It’s not hard to imagine how its Beaux-Arts architecture and interior details will come to life to make the perfect backdrop for an upscale hotel.

“I just liked the building. I saw it and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a good building,’” Sun said, adding he found the listing on MLS.

"I want to keep its heritage, so there is more cost.”

Sun said that the building is in remarkably good shape considering its age, and there were fewer surprises than he expected.

Not only is Sun preserving the past, he’s going above and beyond by trying to marry the well-appointed features of this stately structure with the realities of running a modern hotel.

For example, he is refurbishing original oak doors by replacing the glass with new oak panels so that they can be used for guestroom doors.

He is also reclaiming oak baseboards wherever possible and using them in some of the rooms, along with polishing up an old wood-burning iron, oak and marble fireplace that will be used for decoration only.

The Courthouse Hotel will have 41 guestrooms. Each will have its own unique size, shape, and feel.

The smallest will still be about the size of a typical hotel room, though well appointed with touches such as oak trim, marble fireplaces, marble bathtub/shower enclosure, and other features depending on the room.

There will also be larger suites suitable for families or business travellers who want a separate meeting room or expanded living space.

Sun said that about 70 per cent of guests will be business travellers including medical professionals and other professionals visiting the city. Some of the rooms overlook St. Joseph’s Hospital, which is part of the St. Joseph’s Care Group, the second-largest employer in northwestern Ontario.

The Courthouse Hotel also has the potential to become a conference destination or special events location for weddings and similar occasions.

The ballroom – converted from the original main courtroom – seats 100 for dinner and 300 for cocktail parties. Food arrangements would be made with local caterers, Sun said.

The raised judges’ bench and ornate woodwork will remain as a stage.

Sun said there will also be other amenities within the hotel including another meeting room, a gym on the lower level, and a breakfast room.

Perhaps the best feature of the Courthouse Hotel will be the view. The building is located on a hill in Port Arthur overlooking Thunder Bay Harbour.

The east (front) side of the hotel will offer spectacular views of the city’s vibrant downtown, ships and sailboats coming in and out of the harbour, and of course the Sleeping Giant and Lake Superior beyond.

Sun is originally from Bejing, China but moved to the Toronto area about 10 years ago where he owns residential properties.

Originally, he envisioned condos for the old courthouse in Thunder Bay as well, but permitting requirements and the favourable hotel market changed his mind.

“I hired a company in Toronto – a professional in the hotel industry – who gave me a 30-page report that shows Thunder Bay... has a 70 per cent occupancy rate. That’s really good.”

The Courthouse Hotel will be part of the Ascend by Choice Hotels chain, the high-end cousin of names such as Comfort Inn and Suites, EconoLodge, and Quality Inn.

The Ascend Hotel Collection advertises its brand as “one-of-a-kind, upscale hotels.”

According its website, there are currently only three other Ascend hotels in Ontario in Toronto, Huntsville, and Sault Ste. Marie.

Sun is in the process of hiring a hotel manager prior to opening.